Monday, August 28, 2006

on my bookshelf

Today I finished reading Arthur C. Clarke's "2001: A Space Odyssey," after recently watching Stanley Kubrik's movie of the same title.

I'm somewhat embarassed to admit that I've never read this particular novel of Clarke's, although I did read "2010: Odyssey Two" when it first was published. I blame that primarily on Mr. Robinson, the gifted instructor we had for a semester or two back in middle school. Like many other teachers, Mr. Robinson had the unenviable ability to ruin classic works of literature and film for younger viewers and make them inaccessible through his uncanny knack for making his students feel stupid. (Alas, I have little doubt that I accomplished this very thing myself, when I was a teacher.)

"2001," whether movie or novel, has its roots in an older Clarke short story called "The Sentinel," in which lunar explorers uncover an artifact from an ancient and extraterrestrial civilization, buried on the Moon. The artifact serves as an intelligence test set by those ancient explorers; to locate it and probe its mysteries, any intelligent race from the earth first must reach the moon, develop enough of a presence there to locate the artifact, and then harness the power of the atom peaceably, to open it.

The story as developed by Kubrik and Clarke -- the novel and film were developed concurrently, to minimize the differences between the two -- begins roughly three million years ago, when our postulated forbears first differentiated themselves from their apelike neighbors.

The picture in the movie, and in the book, is one of ape-men barely eking out an existence on the earth. Wild animals prey on the ape-men, they engage in noisy but meaningless fights with other tribes over the water, and so on. It's a bleak existence, and in terms of the book, the apemen are on the verge of extinction.

Enter the monolith, a clearly unnatural rock that appears one morning near the cave where the ape-men live. The movie treatment of this is accented by striking music; the book, through narrative, makes the daytime encounter with the monolith of no account, but stretches the night-time encounters over an extended period.

During this encounter, the monolith gives humanity intelligence. In the movie, this is accomplished through mere physical contact; in the book, it comes through the monolith training the ape-men in basic motor skills, and exposing them to new ideas, such as killing animals for food. Regardless of which tack you follow, the monolith triggers a significant evolutionary step by teaching the ape-men to use tools. In no time at all, the ape-men are using these tools not only to hunt but to make war on other ape-men and lay an indisputable claim to the limited resources available.

And at this point, both book and movie skip ahead three million years to 2001, when Heywood Floyd is taking a voyage to the moon base. I love this point of the movie because, incredibly, Floyd is sound asleep on his trip through space. Part of it probably is Kubrik indicating how familiarity turns the miraculous into the mundane, but I think he's also acknowledging that many of his viewers are finding his masterpiece boring and wishing they could fall asleep.

This is the point at which the monolith has been discovered. Its discovery triggers the next phase of the movie and the novel, as it emits a powerful radio signal into the outer reaches of the solar system, where a third monolith is awaiting, a further test of humanity's intelligence, endurance and determination. (Can you follow this signal? Will you endure the long trip?)

Natasha had a horrible time with the movie, which admittedly is not a piece for everyone. One of the chief reasons I hated it in middle school was that it's meant for older viewers who can read between the lines and follow the unspoken aspects of the plot. And you have to not mind that the spaceship moves slowly, that there is only about five minutes of dialogue in the entire movie, and that most of the developments are implied.

Personally, I found it fascinating in the extreme. The monolith, obviously, is meant to trigger humanity's evolution, first from ape-men to humans, and then from modern man to Star-Child in the person of David Bowman. The whole thing is about humanity increasing in intelligence and reaching its potential.

HAL is a bit more puzzling. When Bowman shuts him down, we find out that HAL has been aware of the true nature of the mission since the beginning. But in one of the earliest discussions we see between HAL and Bowman, Hal seems to be fishing for information from Bowman about the mission. Since HAL is so advanced -- and in some ways, more human than the people we see in the movie, who are particularly robotlike -- it could be he's looking for a way to share what he knows with Bowman.

During this conversation is actually when he claims to detect a fault in the communications relay, a fault that the two nonhibernating astronauts on the ship are unable to detect. The movie offers no explanation, although the book has it that the duplicity HAL has been ordered into has given him a guilty conscience and leading him to

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

houston, we have a problem

Suddenly 9-11 and the last five years make sense in a whole new way.
According to a news story flying around the Internet, Osama bin Laden is a man in love. The purported object of his affections is none other than recording superstar Whitney Houston. That's according to Sudanese poet and novelist Kola Boof, who claims to have been bin Laden's sex slave about ten years ago, and whose new autobiography also reports that bin Laden had a thing for Playboy and Star magazine.
It all fits. What was 9-11 but a lonely man's desparate bid for attention from the woman he loves? It goes right in line with recent efforts by Hezbollah leaders to steal the attention of Britney Spears away from husband Kevin Federline by instigating a war with Israel, or the Iranian president's bid to woo Angelina for a "private meeting" away from Brad Pitt by showing how tough he is with U.N. inspectors and the American government. (And let's not even get started on Hugo Chavez and his dreams of a date with Jennifer Aniston now that she's quashed rumors that she's engaged.)
These poor, desparate guys. I doubt there's not a single person out there who doesn't know what it's like to linger, moonstruck, over a superstar's latest movie or album, knowing -- just knowing -- that the relationship could be a deepfully meaning, long-lasting one, if only the star would return their phone calls or answer their letters.
Heck, Osama. I can relate. Way back when, I had a thing for Wynona Ryder. A friend of mine still has one for Drew Barrymore.
My advice to bin Laden would be pretty straightforward: Stop moping around on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan and sending other people to die just because you're heartbroken. If you still want to marry Whitney, be a little more assertive and direct. Send a videotaped statement to al Jazeera, explaining how you feel about her. I'm sure her publicist will let her know about the broadcast.
Next, use some of that wealth you have -- the bin Ladens are a wealthy Saudi family, after all -- and find her number. Don't come on too strong -- the sort of women who are worth pursuing do get turned off by the degree of mass murder and hatred you've been connected with -- but explain how long you've been carrying the candle for her, and ask her out. Arabic is a very poetic language, and I'm sure you can persuade her without resorting to suicide bombers.
If she says no, don't be mad. Rejection happens to all of us; the trick is to move on and not dwell on it as though it has ended all your chances of happiness. I got turned down plenty of times for dates before I found the right woman, as have most men.
But if Whitney says yes, the real trouble is going to begin. You'll have to take her on a date, where it's best you not talk about how infidels are ruining the world, about the evils of music, or the glories of jihad and martyrdom. In fact, Osama, I'd wait until at least the second date before bringing up religion and politics at all.
It's a tough thing, loving someone who doesn't know you exist, but hang in there, Osama. We all understand.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

someone else gets it

I am not the only person to hate Elmo. Joel Stein, whose column appears on Jewish World Review, also gets it:
Whereas Count Von Count markets math and Oscar markets the acceptability of negative emotions, Elmo, brilliantly, just markets Elmo, leading him to be the show's cash cow, or whatever misshapen animal he's supposed to be.
Stein argues, as I have, that Elmo represents the dumbing-down of Sesame Street, which used to teach actual, useful skills and to present knowledge in a format that children could appreciate. Now it's a show for preschool that barely makes a pretense of teaching them anything, except that they need to buy more Elmo toys.

When I spoke to a Sesame Workshop employee two years ago concering Elmo, she couldn't fathom why anyone would hate him. News flash: Most adults with small children do. Maybe if more people take the tie to express their loathing for the little freak, they'll wake up and smell the show crashing and burning before it's too late.

Read the entire column

nuclear holocaust

Just in case you're feeling really chipper and on top of the world this morning, here's an editorial from the Wall Street Journal about the prospects of nuclear conflagration in the Middle East, and why the threat of mutually assured destruction might not work.
Remember: Death comes from above. Have a nice day!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006


I think I've been getting pretty good at learning to play songs by ear. Last night I figured out how to play the melody for "It is Well with my Soul" in about twenty minutes, adding it to a rapidly growing repertoire that also includes the recapitulation from the "Phantom of the Opera" title track, "Clementine," "When the Saints Go Marching In," "Michael," "How Great Thou Art," "Amazing Grace," "Holy, Holy, Holy" and some less notable ditties like "Popeye" and childhood standards like "Row Your Boat," which I can play in three different keys. (Plus that pinnacle of praise music, "Majesty.")

I'm under no illusions that I'm a great -- or even a merely good -- pianist, but I'm pretty pleased with my progress. At the moment I'm pretty much just playing the straight melody line of these songs, sans left hand, sans chords. I still hit the wrong key at times because my hands aren't familiar enough with the keyboard; and of course I'm rearranging almost all the songs to start with C natural because I'm playing by ear and haven't a clue how to read sheet music for the piano. I'm not even sure I can play it on the tuba anymore, and that's an instrument I played for six years.

More dextrous fingers will come with experience. Chords and a clue about what to do with my left hand should come with the next few lessons. But considering I've been tinkering with it for only a couple months, I think it's pretty good that I can figure out a new song in about twenty minutes and still play it right the next morning. And I've done all this without spending six months of music lessons playing nothing but those frigging scales.

One thing I've started to notice that I don't think I ever picked up when I played tuba -- perhaps because the tuba almost never gets the melody -- is the relationship between a note and the notes that precede and follow it. I don't know if I can explain it, but there's a definite flow to the music in one- and two-steps between the notes. Many of the songs I've figured out how to play literally go up and down the scales one step at a time for several notes, stay in the same octave the entire time, and so on. It's almost mathematical. (The exception is Lloyd Webber's "Phantom" score, but that's not surprising, considering it's more of a concert piece, for professional musicians, than something most people are going to sing every week at church or with friends.)

The double irony here is that I took up the piano pretty much as a way of encouraging Evangeline, and she's lost most of her interest in it. She had been keyed up to learn piano, so I talked with a friend who agreed to teach her how to teach herself, and his first lesson was so simple and straightforward that I realized I probably could teach myself too. Now I'm playing it almost every day, and she's barely touching it.

Still, I figure if I keep this up, it's likely to rekindle her interest, and it likely will grab Rachel's interest as well. And isn't that how knowledge and skills are supposed to be passed on, from parent to child?

Monday, August 14, 2006

stupid statements from the pulpit

I guess we all have moments where someone says something so ridiculous we're unable to contain ourselves. Mine seem to come in church.

One time a couple years ago I was at a New Jersey megachurch where the preacher -- a venerable fellow, he was the head of the entire Pillar of Fire ministry, I believe -- said, without offering any support for his statement, that the book of Job refers to dinosaurs. I made such an audible noise of derision that several heads turned to look at me.

He was referring, one presumes, to Leviathan and Behemoth, but given the context it seems likely that Leviathan is an alligator and Behemoth a hippo. Creationists some time ago decided that Leviathan was diplodocus or something, and that Behemoth was a brontosaur (or apatosaur, as is now fashionable), but there's no contextual basis for such a claim, nor is there any accompanying illustration in the earliest MSS to support such a claim.

It's clear it's just some creationist wish-fulfillment at work; i.e., "We need dinosaurs in the Bible. Where can we find them?"

Another time, when I was attending the Assemblies of God, the pastor made some comment about the church providing all the community a believer could need. I didn't even realize I was doing it, but I snorted so loudly that the pastor himself stopped and looked at me.

home improvement

One of the downsides to owning a house is the constant procession of home repair and maintenance projects.
Two years ago we replaced the roof, an expensive but necessary repair, owing to the house's great age and the many spots in the attic roof that sunlight streamed through. Projects since then have been less weighty but still rather important, such as the bathroom floor my older brother helped me with extensively on a visit from New York.
We started that one on a Saturday morning and kept at it until about 10 p.m., before getting up and tackling it some more from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday. We ripped up the cracked ceramic tile floor, pulled up the tongue-and-groove subfloor, and then removed the boards a previous homeowner had used to try to level the floor. In the last 160 years or so, the second floor has settled a fair amount, so we had variations in the floor from a half inch to more than an inch-and-a-half.
During our work time, we killed a colony of ants, nailed 1-by-4's into place, added shims here and there to make the floor a little more level, added a plywood subfloor, supported the toilet and installed a new wax ring, and finally laid some linoleum, our theory being that linoleum is more flexible and less likely to break than ceramic tile.
None of the walls is square with another, but at least the bathroom doesn't look as bad as it used to.
Since then Natasha and I have sealed the attic off from squirrels and are now engaged in a project to paint the facia and soffit in the front of the house. Our house also is being overrun by tiny water ants, which has been driving us crazy. I'm hoping I can find some beneficial nematodes at a garden store to think their ranks outside, which should help. Plus, we want to restucco the foundation on the outside.
Come September, finances allowing, I'd like to rip off the paper and repaint the downstairs bathroom. Upstairs too.
And then some day, we'll need to do something about the ugly wallpaper in the stairwell ...

ministry of children

It took until I was almost 18 years old before I had my first great spiritual awakening, and even older before I started to see my responsibilities not just to Christ but to the vast crowds of people around me.
The gospel Christ brings us is a message of reconciliation, not just between us and God, but between us and one another. His desire is for the restoration of all our relationships, so that all of us can have community as it was intended to be. I lost a lot of my life before I began to understand that; I don't want my girls to miss out too.
So this summer, the girls have been actively volunteering at my side. We spent a few hours this past week helping with our church's project of rehabilitating some housing in the Nova Bastille area for people who needed the help, and we've spent most Monday evenings at Elijah's Promise, a soup kitchen here in Nova Bastille, where the girls have helped me take food to the clients, hand out meal tickets as people come in, and bundle up silverware for people to use when they eat.
It's been a great experience. Every time we go, there's usually at least one volunteer who hasn't seen them there before and who's wondering what I'm thinking by bringing them there.
I'm sure I could get some things done more efficiently if it weren't for having the girls with me, and sometimes Evangeline in particular has got underfoot of other volunteers by dancing when she should be standing to one side. But every night we've gone, I've seen the weariness on people's faces give way to smiles, and I've seen them enjoy the simple pleasure of seeing two little girls take an interest in them. In many ways, that's the greatest ministry that they provide.
But they're also growing up with real faith, and I hope it sticks with them. This isn't just something we do on Sundays or at mealtimes. Christ is real, and he makes a difference in us when we make a difference for others.
That's probably one of the best lessons of faith that I can give them.

the artist's other interests

Evangeline llast week received recognition from the Nova Bastille Free Public Library that she is a skilled writer.

As part of its summer program, the library solicited essays from city children on the subject of how to take their pets with them on a trip to colonize the moon. Essays had to show an understanding of a pet's needs, and ways that a zero-gravity environment would differ from the Earth.

I helped her engage her thought processes, but Evangeline on her own wrote how her dog Sandy could eat, drink, sleep, exercise and go to the bathroom in space. (She neglected to mention that Sandy died last year.) Her innovations: a food dish with a small hole so the food gets out in small amounts only, a dog-size water bottle, a cage with heavy padding so Sandy doesn't get hurt when she floats during her sleep, magnetic shoes so she sticks to the floor, and a vacuum cleaner to clean up everything.

As a sci-fi sort, I was proud that she suggested saving Sandy's waste to terraform the lunar soil -- and even prouder as an organic gardener that she stipulated the waste was not for soil where crops are raised.

But as an award-winning writer, I was prouder still that she received recognition for her own writing. Just shy of second grade, she wrote a better essay than I was accustomed to getting from many of my seventh- and eighth-graders for much of the school year back when I was a teacher.

In other education and learning news, Evangeline also has been busy reading reams of poetry by Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost and a few others, including some poems from my Norton Anthology of English Literature, such as Lewis Carroll and even William Shakespeare. She's been learning folk songs and mastering the rest of the multiplication table.

She's also been learning to ride a bike (with training wheels), play baseball, and jump rope.
Her theology continues to develop, as she notices disparities between her own experiences with God and the way the Bible depicts other people's experiences.

On Saturday night she asked me if God speaks to people like he did in the Tanakh, and when I explained that the direct quotes in the Bible most likely are a literary device intended to represent the more standard prayer experience of hearing God speak to our hearts, she asked me how we can recognize when he's talking to us and when we're just imagining it. She also wanted to know if I had ever heard God speak out loud.

That was the night we read the chapter in 2 Samuel where David decides he wants to build God a Temple instead of leaving the Ark of the Covenant inside a tent all the time. I tried to explain, without getting into the priesthood of Melchizedek or anything deep like that, that the Temple system was a shadow of what was to come in Christ, when the Holy Spirit would live in our hearts. And that prompted her to ask when the Holy Spirit comes into people, if tongues of fire still appeared on their heads when he did and so on.

I think she's intrigued by the admittedly dramatic image of people with flames dancing on their heads, speaking in unknown tongues, and she wanted to know if I had ever seen that happen. (Nope. Not even in the Assemblies of God.)

So I had to explain not only about biblical inspiration, but about the Abramic covenant and Mosaic law being forerunners and types of the relationship we now have with God in Christ, the difference between the indwelling and baptism of the Holy Spirit, and then I had to note that the day of Pentecost was the only time in the Bible when tongues of fire appeared on people's heads as they began to speak in tongues. (And she amazed me with the amount of detail she remembered about that story, that the Christians were speaking all sorts of languages they didn't know but everyone else did, that people thought they were drunk or crazy, and that thousands of people became Christians as a result.)

I can only imagine how late we would have been up if I had started talking about Melchizedek. (And let me note that when we read that chapter of Genesis a few weeks ago, she noticed that Melchizedek and Abram ate the same stuff that we use to celebrate the Last Supper.)

I love it when she asks these questions, because it jolts me out of my own complacency, and forces me to rethink some of my own suppositions about God. How do we know when it's really God speaking to us, and we're not just imagining it? If God's quotes in the Bible are a literary device, what other things could be literary devices that I'm not recognizing as such? As is usual, she left me with weighty questions to ponder while I left her to consider my own inadequate answer to her question.

And lastly, Evangeline is asking for a little brother. She is not just asking us, I have heard her asking for one during bedtime prayers.

mystery virus

It started late Saturday afternoon.
Natasha and I were working on sanding the fascia and soffit in front of the house, in preparation for a paint job it desparately needs. More specifically, she was working on it while I held the ladder for her, since (as previously noted) I can't handle heights. Even holding the ladder, I was worn out. Finally when she got down, I went inside, climbed upstairs and fell asleep on the bed for about two hours.
I got up after dinner, and when I went back to bed, I tossed and turned and had difficulty sleeping, but eventually I drifted off until it was time to get up and start getting ready for church. We walked to church, owing to the high gas prices, and at one point I had to leave the service to go throw up in the bathroom.
Back home, I slept another four or five hours, right through lunch and up to the point I had to start the grill to get ready for dinner. Now it's almost 4 a.m., and I think I'm ready to try going to sleep again. Hopefully my sleep schedule will get back to normal soon.
I'm not really sure what started this. Rachel was sick earlier this week with a virus, so it hardly would be surprising if I caught what she had. On the other hand, she had a temperature of 103.3 degrees and needed a bath to bring her fever down. I haven't had a fever at all, although there's nothing that says viruses have to affect adults the same way they affect kids.

thyroid: the motion picture

It's been several months since my last update, so here is the latest news on my thyroid: I don't have one.

If I lived in the Marvel Universe, my thyroid and I probably would have been reunited by now, in a cataclysmic battle the likes of which has never been seen before, at least if you don't count the summer crossovers that Marvel has foisted upon its readers every one of the last seventeen years. This all would have started after my thyroid started to absorb nutrients and chemicals after hospital employees failed to dispose of it properly, until it assumed a hideous mockery of life. I can imagine it, even now, crawling across Iowa, eager to destroy me in retaliation for sundering it from the rest of my body.

Conversely, I just as easily can see myself having been driven to a life of crime by my thyroidectomy. Imagine a supervillain with a name like "Thyroid Man" or (better yet) "Doctor Thyroid," waylaying unsuspecting people in the alleys and streets of New York, pulling their thyroids from their necks and putting them into his own, in an attempt to replace his. It's not much of a life, admittedly, but it'd be a great way to meet either Daredevil or Spider-man, and get his autograph. Of course, with my luck I'd get taken out by some low-budget superhero like "D-Man," the Captain America sidekick-wannabe with a B.O. problem

Could have been fun either way, as long as D-Man kept away. Instead, I'm pretty sure the thyroid has decayed by now, in whatever landfill or dump they toss medical waste like cancerous organs.

In a more serious vein, my next checkup is slated for October, when I expect to be declared cancer-free.

In the meantime, I'm waiting for my next supply of thyroid medication to arrive in the mail. I ordered the stuff from a mail-order pharmacy not based in Canada about two weeks ago, but I haven't received anything yet. Given that the supply of thyroid hormone I have in the house ran out Sunday, I'd really like to get this today. It's nice to save the money by mail ordering medication, but as I explained to their customer service people when I hadn't received my medication by the expected time, I need this stuff to stay alive over the long haul.

I can renew the old prescription one more time, but since my doctor raised my dosage from 150 mcg of levothyroxin to 200 mcg, I'd prefer to get the newer prescription. It'll boost my energy levels, aid my efforts to lose weight, and since there's supposed to be a six-month supply of the little pills in the bottle, it'll make a better weapon to throw at my marauding thyroid once it finally arrives.

off in her own world

I listened to you today.
You were off in your own world,
Singing in the library.
You were in your own little world,
And you seemed so happy there.

Can I go with you next time? I'd like to.
My world is frightening, terrible, loud.
Fanatics fly planes into buildings
And bomb others in mid-air,
Blaspheming the very Name they claim to serve.
Yours is a world of Superman,
Wallace and Gromit, a dog named Blue,
And a constitutionally mandated bowl of ice cream
Every night before bedtime.
It seems so happy and free.

It's nice to see, and fun to visit.
Next time you go, please tell me first,
So I can go there with you.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

old stories, new eyes

It always begins like this: The pastor is at the front of the church, casting the opening lines of his sermon out to the congregation. He baits us with some sort of joke or anecdote, and slowly he begins to reel it in. It's going great. We're all hooked on what he has to say. 
And then it happens. He starts talking about Psalm 23 or the Parable of the Mustard Seed, and he's lost me. In no time at all, I've broken free and swum far away from lead-me-beside-still-waters. By sermon's end, I'm vaguely aware that there was a sermon on something from the Bible, but I've no idea what it was about.
Read the entire essay.

The Shining: That's one creepy movie, yo

On Friday night, I had a rendezvous with a piece of cinematic history that was long overdue. On Friday night, I watched "The Shining."

Released in 1980 with Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall in starring roles and Stanley Kubrik at the helm, "The Shining" has to be one of the finest movies I have seen in ages. In the movie, Jack Torrance (Nicholson) is hired as the caretaker of the Overlook Hotel in Colorado during the hotel's five-month closure. The hotel has a bit of a past; ten years earlier, another caretaker went insane and killed his wife and two daughters when the prolonged isolation presumably got to him. Over the winter, Torrance experiences a mental breakdown and tries to kill his wife and child.

I'm not generally into horror movies -- either they're so schlocky that they're not believable, or they just substitute vulgar gross-outs for actual horror -- but this was a movie I found absolutely haunting.

The horror starts out with the opening credits, actually. As the credits roll, we hear disconcerting, ethereal music and follow Torrance's Volkswagen as it goes up the long road to the Overlook Hotel. There's not a scene in the movie that doesn't in some way add to this creeped-out feeling of being watched, followed, or just of encroaching doom.

As the movie goes on, Kubrik repeats the following motif: the camera follows Danny around the Overlook Hotel, uncomfortably close, as he rides his Big Wheel about; in the Overlook Maze, we follow him uncomfortably closely as he runs for shelter. In many ways, the entire movie is a labyrinth, as we work our way into the dark corners of Torrance's unraveling mind.

Kubrik's use of the ghosts is also brilliant -- they appear, setting the characters and the movie-goers on edge, then disappear. For the most part, they're not characters as much as they are props, meant to establish the setting and feel of the psychoscape: the murdered girls of the previous caretaker, the woman drowned in the bathtub, and ultimately the entire crew at the ballroom.

And tell me that doesn't creep you out when Torrance, at an empty bar in a ballroom by himself, offers to sell his soul for a beer, only to lower his hands from his eyes and find the bartender ready to give him a drink. Talk about Faustian bargains -- and this is where he really starts to go nuts.

The odd thing about the movie, from the point of realism, is the ending. As the camera pans in, it eventually settles on a picture of the July 4, 1920, ball, where Jack Torrance is featured prominently. At an earlier scene in the bar, the quintessentially British waiter -- whom Torrance recognizes as Delberton Grady, the 1970 caretaker who killed his family -- assures Torrance that he, Torrance, has always been the caretaker at the hotel. And Torrance himself said earlier in the movie that when he first went to the hotel, he felt as though he knew it intimately, as though he had been there before.

Realistically, this is impossible, and I spent a few days trying to figure out the significance of the ending, since it's obviously a key to understanding the movie. If it can't be taken literally, it has to be taken figuratively. The Overlook Hotel is a metaphor for something larger -- some commentators I've read suggest it's America itself, and the genocide we not only committed against the American Indians but are content to overlook, while others suggest it's the dark side of human nature.

The first viewpoint has some credibility -- the hotel was built on an Indian burial ground, for instance, and there is a fair amount of Indian iconography incorporated into the movie -- but even if that was a specific point Kubrik wished to make with the movie, the broader application still works. As the main character, Torrance is someone we're meant to identify with, even though he ends badly, frozen to death in the maze, and we have to believe that his dark side is something we know ourselves. Just as he denies any guilt in injuring his son two years earlier, in a drunken rage, we like to deny our own guilt over our crimes ... and we deny our guilt or responsibility for crimes our ancestors have committed, whether it be the legacy of genocide against the American Indians, the oppression of blacks, or years of other bigotries and small-minded prejudices.

This movie is a winner in every sense of the word. The score is brilliant, Nicholson and Duvall give stand-out performances the whole way through the movie, and Kubrik shines unfalteringly as the director and co-writer of the script.

The movie was based on a novel by Stephen King. I hope to watch the movie again, but all the same, I don't think I'll be reading King's book any time soon. His books usually don't do much for me.


A former professor of mine has written a guest column for the Allentown Morning Call about the latest fighting between Hezbollah and Israel.
I share it here for your continued edification.

changes of life

As you may recall, up until last December I had rather long hair. Owing to my impending cancer surgery, I had my hair cut off and donated it to Locks of Love. Prior to the haircut, my hair was fairly straight. Now that it is shorter, it is extremely curly.
I've heard of people's hair undergoing such changes, but usually in connection with something like becoming pregnant or having a baby. I have done neither, and since I've been taking thyroid hormone since last November, I don't think it's likely that that's a factor.

Does anyone have an explanation, or is menopause going to be the presumed culprit?